I've had the opportunity over the past couple of years to work with a large customer of mine on a refresh of their entire infrastructure. Network management tools were one of the last pieces to be addressed as emphasis had been on legacy hardware first and the direction for management tools had not been established. This mini-series will highlight this company's journey and the problems solved, insights gained, as well as unresolved issues that still need addressing in the future. Hopefully this help other companies or individuals going through the process. Topics will include discovery around types of tools, how they are being used, who uses them and for what purpose, their fit within the organization, and lastly what more they leave to be desired.

As organizations roll out network management software and extend that software to a number teams they begin to gain additional insights that weren't visible before. These additional insights enable the business to make better decisions, recognize more challenges and/or inefficiencies, etc.

For this customer one of the areas in which we were able to vastly improve visibility had to do with the facilities team. This manufacturing site has its own power station and water plant among other things to ensure that manufacturing isn't ever disrupted. In working on other projects with the team, it became obvious that the plant facilities team was in the dark about network maintenance issues, etc. This team would mobilize into "outage mode" whenever the network was undergoing maintenance. After spending time with this team and understanding why they had to react the way that the do, we were able to extend a specific set of tools to them that would make them aware of any outages, give them insight into when/why certain devices were offline, and provide visibility into when the network would come back online. This increased awareness of their needs, combined with additional visibility from network tools has reduced the average cost of an outage significantly as well as solved some communication challenges between various teams. We were also able to give them a dashboard that would help discern between network and application level issues.

This is a brief of example as to how we can all start to build the case for network management tools and do so in a business relevant way. Justifying these tools has to be about the business rather than simply viewing red/yellow/green or how hard a specific server is working. A diverse team can help explain the total business impact better than any single team could. For admins looking to get these tools look for some of these business impacting advantages:

Reduced Downtime
We always seem to look at this as network downtime, however as in the example above there are other downtime issues to be aware of and all of these can impact the business. Expanding the scope of network related issues can increase the perceived value of any networking tool. Faster time to resolution through the added visibility is a key contributor to reduced downtime. Tools that allow you to be proactive also have a very positive effect on downtime.

This seems rather self explanatory, however enabling helpdesk to be more self-sufficient through these tools can reduce the percentage of escalated tickets. These tickets typically carry a hefty price and also impact the escalations team to work on other issues.

Establish and Maintain Service Level Agreements
Many organization talk about SLAs and expect them from their carriers, etc. but how many are offering this to their own company? I'd argue very few do this and it is something that would benefit the organization as a whole. An organization that sees IT as an asset will typically be willing to invest more in that group. As network admins, we need to make sure we are providing value to the company. Predictable response and resolution times are a good start.

Impact on Staff
Unplanned outages are a massive drain on resources from help desk to admins to executives, everyone is on edge. These also often carry the financial impacts of overtime, consulting fees, etc. in addition to some of the intangibles like work/life balance, etc.